Les Ramoneurs, from Pilote #426
Terry Gilliam was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He had a vivid imagination and creativity from a young age, admiring artists such as Ernie Kovacs, the Goon Show, Philip K. Dick, C.S. Lewis, Walt Disney, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Stan Van Der Beek, Karel Zeman, Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Francisco de Goya, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Gustave Doré, Lewis Carroll, John Tenniel, Robert Crumb, Hergé, Harvey Kurtzmann, Ray Harryhausen and Eastern European animators such as Jan Švankmajer. During the 1960s he drew cartoons and comics. His first work was printed in Fang, a college humor magazine of which he later became an editor. He was also associate editor for Harvey Kurtzmann's short-lived satirical magazine Help! and published several comic strips and cartoons there. In a 1964 issue he made a photo comic about a man who falls in love with a Barbie doll. The actor in question was John Cleese, with whom Gilliam would later work together in Monty Python.
When he first came to Europe, Gilliam provided two short stories to the French magazine Pilote, of which one was written by Fred. Gilliam also provided some comics to Petersen Publishing's magazines CARtoons and SURFtoons, for which Alex Toth also contributed work. In CARtoons Gilliam drew the comic 'My son Arnold, the Car', which already showed the absurdism and silliness he would later further develop in the Monty Python series.
In 1968 Gilliam moved away from printed cartoons to animated cartoons. To reach his weekly deadlines he combined his own drawings with photos and pictures he photocopied and cut out from books and magazines. This lead to goofy cut-and-paste animation, which livened up 'We Have Ways Of Making You Laugh' (1968) and the children's TV series 'Do Not Adjust Your Set' (1967-1969) on ITV. In 1969 Gilliam joined forces with three actors from this cult program, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, as well as Cleese and Graham Chapman to form the comedy team Monty Python.
Comic strip by Gilliam with a reference to an ad campaign of Quick Flit insecticide, that was created by Dr Seuss
Their TV sketch series 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' (1969-1974) on the BBC quickly became notorious due to its subversive, surreal and experimental nature. Sketches often ended without proper punchlines and demolished all comedy conventions. Much like 'Do Not Adjust Your Set' Gilliam's surreal animated sequences intercut the live-action content. The main difference was that he could work in color now and be more graphic in his depiction of nudity and violence. Later, when the team began making movies, Gilliam animated the opening sequences and designed sets and puppets. He co-directed one of their live-action films, 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' (1975), as well as the prologue 'The Crimson Permanent Assurance' that opens 'Monty Python's Meaning of Life' (1983). Gilliam only played small roles in the TV show, films and during their stage shows, but did illustrate their concert posters, books and record covers.
Besides his Python activities Gilliam started a new career as a live-action film director. Despite frequent executive meddling and often polarizing reviews his movies earned respect due to their highly eccentric and imaginative style. With Walt Disney, Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Luis Buñuel, Stanley Donen, Walerian Borowczyk and Federico Fellini as main cinematic influences, Gilliam is one of the few film makers in Hollywood who manages to make highly personal works. Several of his films have reached cult status, including 'Time Bandits' (1981), 'Brazil' (1985), 'The Adventures of Baron Münchhausen' (1989), '12 Monkeys' (1995), 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' (1998) and 'Tideland' (2005).
Gilliam's subversive animation has had tremendous influence on countless artists who emerged since the 1970s, including Matt Groening ('The Simpsons, 'Futurama') and Trey Parker and Matt Stone ('South Park'). He has been called a forerunner of the 'steampunk' movement, by combining pre-20th century historical imagery with industrial technology. His style is so difficult to describe that it inspired its own eponym: 'Gilliamesque'.
Gilliam is still highly regarded in fantasy, comic book and animation circles. He contributed to many documentaries, among about Spike Milligan ('The Unseen Spike Milligan', 2005), Mel Blanc ('Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices', 2008), Bill Plympton ('Adventures in Plymptoons!', 2011), Ray Harryhausen ('Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan', 2011), Ken Russell ('Ken Russell: A Bit of a Devil', 2012), Karel Zeman ('Film Adventurer Karel Zeman', 2015), Nick Park ('A Grand Night In: The Story of Aardman', 2015), Laurie Lipton ('Love Bite: Laurie Lipton and Her Disturbing Black & White Drawings', 2016) and Edward Gorey ('The Last Day of Edward Gorey'). In 2011 he wrote the foreword to Paul Gravett's book '1001 Comics You Should Read Before You Die'.